School will look different in Manitoba come September due to COVID-19

WINNIPEG — Manitoba students can expect less bussing, fewer assemblies and, in some cases, fewer elective courses when school returns on Sept. 8.

The provincial government laid out its plan Thursday to reopen schools with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing.

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Because of physical distancing requirements, school buses will only allow one student per seat unless they are from the same household, and many parents will be expected to drive their kids to school.

"We will rely heavily on parents who are able to bring their kids to school to do that," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

Once in school, students may face new limits on their ability to gather in close quarters — lunch-hour breaks may be staggered, students may stay in one classroom for most of the day while teachers rotate, and student assemblies will be limited.

In cases where schools are already crowded and physical distancing is a challenge, some courses may not be offered so that everyone can learn core subjects such as math and science.

"From an education perspective, the priorities have to first be on those core subjects if there is a space challenge," Goertzen said. "And that won't be the case in every school but it might be the case in some."

The government's plan lays out three possible scenarios depending on how severe the pandemic is, and says one will be chosen by Aug. 1.

If COVID-19 numbers remain low, students will see a near-normal return to school, subject to physical distancing requirements and limitations on gatherings, bussing and other items.

If the pandemic becomes severe, the school system will rely on online learning and classrooms will be shut except for small-group tutoring and assessments.

The middle-case scenario would see students kept in cohorts with a small number of classmates who would likely stay together throughout the day. Kids in elementary and middle school would continue to go to class five days a week, while high school students could be cut back to two days in class and three days online.

So far, Manitoba has had among the lowest COVID-19 numbers among the provinces. There were 316 confirmed and probable cases as of Thursday, with only 15 still active. Seven people have died since the pandemic began and 294 have recovered.

The Opposition New Democrats said the government should ensure that elective courses continue to be available.

"They actually came today and recommended cutting classes rather than hiring more teachers or assistants to make sure that kids get all the learning that they need," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

"The government should be making investments ... so that kids can get the full educational experience this fall."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2020

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